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July 27th, 2007
Local artist sculpts life of her own
This is one of an occasional series intended to paint a cumulative portrait of our Jewish community. Individuals for this column are selected at random from the Milwaukee Jewish Federation database. The Chronicle does not have access to donor information, or contact members with regard to their giving habits.
Today we focus on Debbie Wolf Lurie.
When Debbie Wolf Lurie was an art student at Washington University in St. Louis, one of her professors always emphasized the importance of not just looking at things, but really seeing them.
That wisdom has stuck with Lurie and influences her very full life as an artist, entrepreneur, wife and mother.
“I’m always trying to absorb everything, to notice every detail,” Lurie told The Chronicle in an interview at her Fox Point home.
“You never know what you’re going to use it for later.”
In Lurie’s case, those carefully observed details might inform projects for any one of the three art-related businesses — Glass Concepts, LTD., Facets, and P-ZAZZ! LTD. — that she started with her husband of 24 years, Allen, in 1991.
“We started from zero, created a concept and found a niche,” she said. “We incorporate my [artistic] talent and his [business] talent — it’s an excellent fit.”
Lurie specializes in one-of-a-kind, hand-cut, etched glass pieces, but she also works with mixed media, creates logo promotional items, and hand etches awards for several organizations.
Her bright home is filled with her work. Mixed media pieces (which combine watercolors, fractured glass, sandblasted glass and collaged paper) adorn the walls.
Etched glass bowls, vases, picture frames, and candle-holders — to name just a few of the items that she sells at various art shows and also ships throughout the country — are tastefully displayed in wooden cabinets.
“I love to mix media to make my work truly unique,” Lurie explained. “Even my salt and pepper shakers, vases, etc., have hand formed wire shapes and fused glass gems that I make.”
During a tour of her home, she pointed out the large and intricate photo collages she created when each of her sons — Jason, 21, a graduate of Purdue University, and Kyle, 15, a student at Nicolet High School — celebrated becoming a bar mitzvah.
“I like to use my creative side and apply it to whatever I’m doing,” Lurie said, and that includes her work in the community.
She spoke proudly of Kyle’s bar mitzvah project of collecting five hundred new pairs of shoes to distribute to three charities. It was such a success that she and her son created an organization called “Getting back on your feet,” for which Lurie designed the logo.
They are still collecting and distributing shoes today. “It was an amazing experience,” she said. “You want your kids to give back, so it’s been wonderful.”
A native of Bayside and a graduate of Nicolet High School and Washington University, Lurie’s art background and Bachelor of Fine Arts degree led her to the former Imperial Knitting Company in Milwaukee. She stayed for 11 years, working as a knitwear designer, and eventually became vice president.
After leaving the company and marrying, she began taking art classes, doing freelance projects, and even did some professional modeling. She eventually became involved in glasswork, which led to the businesses that she and her husband run today from their spacious home office.
“We’ve really done things our way,” said Lurie. “You don’t have to do things the norm. You can create your own journey.”
Lurie’s work ethic surely contributes to her success, and she admits to being a “night owl” who is always busy doing something — whether it’s for her art, the community or her family.
“She’s the hardest working person I know,” her husband Alan Lurie told The Chronicle. “Debbie is consistent every day in her desire to produce, and she’s ever evolving with her art and her talents. She doesn’t stay static in her art — she’s learned how to do pottery, tie-dye, metal work. She’s always expanding her artistic capabilities.”
When Lurie isn’t working, she loves spending time with her husband and sons, playing golf and volunteering. She is a board member of FOCUS, a women’s business group that also gives scholarships to local women.
Lurie feels strongly about being a great role model for her children. When, for example, she was asked to design centerpieces and gift baskets for the “millennium” New Year’s Eve event at Midwest Airlines Center in 2000, her older son helped set up for the event.
“They see your actions and learn good values,” she said. “It’s all about how you feel about what you do.”
“I work hard,” she continued, “and I try to make every minute of every day count. If you don’t love what you do, it’s not worth it. It’s so important to love what you do everyday.”